“And even after we arrived our identities would forever become where we came from, where we came to and what we went through in-between.”
In a nondescript house, on a quiet street in the Northside neighborhood of Syracuse, New York a little bit of magic happens each week.
It is here that a group of women from the city’s refugee community gather for a shared meal, group discussions about American culture and several hours of community among those with similar experiences.
Each woman has been displaced, forced to flee their home country and has been resettled to Central New York. It was here, in a small, intimate living room, half of us seated on the floor, that I first learned piece of their individual stories—the reasons they fled and details of their journey; their aspirations and dreams; and what it has been like to start over, to recreate home and build a new life for themselves and their families.
“In Somalia there are people shooting and killing each other. Sometimes people are raping young girls. This happened to my sister. We had to escape.”
“I was walking to class and he yelled that I should take the f*ckng towel off my head and go back to my country.”
“We don’t talk about mental health or addiction; the older generation knows they exist but they are taboo. Young people want to change this but it is hard.”
“I want to study science and become a doctor. Then I can go back and help my country.”
“I am a refugee but I am also American; I studied for three years and passed the test last week.”
Since 2000, more than 15,000 refugees have been resettled to Syracuse, New York and twice that to wider Central New York. Of that, well over half are women and girls who have fled extreme poverty, environmental disasters, political turmoil, persecution or conflict to pursue a new life in America.
Most arrive without financial security, knowledge of the English language or any personal connections.
They are mothers, sisters, entrepreneurs and small business owners. They are primary breadwinners, educators, community leaders and in many cases, your neighbor.
The Geography of Belonging aims to share a glimpse into the variability, complexity and breadth of individual experience and to challenge existing narratives regularly ascribed to a group that is often reduced to a single entity —“refugees.”
What does this “new” identity look like as these women navigate honoring their cultural heritage while adapting to American norms and expectations and what are the ways in which they successfully—and not so successfully—achieve this fine balance?
This work is part of a wider effort to counter existing narratives, demystify the word “refugee”, add nuance to the conversation and encourage the viewer to consider and reconsider their beliefs and understanding.